The Fish rebrands, reopens as Play Arcade and Bar

Artwork by local artist Matt McAllister is the backdrop behind pinball machines at Play Arcade and Bar, 436 12th St. W.
Artwork by local artist Matt McAllister is the backdrop behind pinball machines at Play Arcade and Bar, 436 12th St. W.

In downtown Bradenton, a sushi restaurant and bar sandwiched between two other bars just didn’t work with the nightlife scene.

Owner Joey Bennett hopes a new bar and arcade concept will work better.

“This is just more Bradenton,” Bennett said. “We’re a city of blue-collar people, including me.”

The rest of the downtown Bradenton bar lineup is mostly devoid of activities for customers, save a pool table or dartboard here and there. The arcade concept brings much-needed diversity to downtown, Bennett said.

When Bennett got feedback about The Fish, the sushi restaurant he owned and operated in the space at 436 12th St. W. before turning it into Play Arcade and Bar, it was all positive, he said. But it “just wasn’t enough people.”

This is just more Bradenton.

Joey Bennett, owner, Arcade Play and Bar

In February, Bennett told the Herald about expansion plans for The Fish. He’s still planning to expand the space, which would double the footprint of the game room.

For now, Play Arcade and Bar has a couple pinball machines as well as Ms. Pac-Man, Elite Supercade, Galaga and Target Toss Pro Lawn Darts and Bags, along with a few other 1980s and 1990s games meant to stoke nostalgia for customers who grew up playing those games. If the expansion is successful, Bennett plans to add more arcade games, pool tables, air hockey and Skee-Ball.

Mario tabletops add to the nostalgic atmosphere at Play Arcade and Bar, 436 12th St. W. Janelle O’Dea

The arcade is still in transition, though the arcade vibe is certainly taking hold. Local artist Matt McAllister already finished two murals; one of a video game controller gripped by a hand and another emulating part of the Pac-Man game. The bottom of the bar is painted as a scene from Super Mario and the lights hanging overhead represent the coins caught in the Mario Kart games, which help players increase speed.

Play Arcade and Bar is open from 1 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Customers pay for games using cash and change, but if the expansion goes through, John Russo said he’ll think about using a card reader system. Russo’s company, Saturn 5, which also operates the game room in DeSoto Square mall, provides the games in Play Arcade and Bar. A card reader system allows customers to load a card with an amount of money or playing time.

Russo expressed excitement about joining the trend of marrying a bar and an arcade. He said the concept has “been sweeping the country the last five to seven years.”

“It’s popping up everywhere,” Russo said. “It’s suited to adults instead of being a kiddie arcade. We sift out the games you would find in Saturn 5 and use those that adults play. We’re targeting a millennial 25 to 40 audience.”

“In most arcades, you can’t drink,” Bennett said.

Artwork by local artist Matt McAllister makes for a colorful backdrop at Play Arcade and Bar, 436 12th St. W. Janelle O’Dea

He’s thought about switching from sushi to Skee-Ball for the past couple months and thinks the concept is a good fit for downtown Bradenton.

“In the bars down here, there’s not much to do,” Bennett said.

He gestured to the roomful of nostalgia-evoking games: “And we grew up in this time.”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday